Smoking bans, like the one which we are confident will ultimately take effect in Toledo restaurants, bars, bowling alleys, and other public places, aren't just an American invention. A number of European countries have similarly tough laws in the works as world opinion moves ever more decidedly against the health hazards of tobacco.
In Ireland, no less, smoking in pubs is expected to be illegal as of Jan. 1. Norway and the Netherlands have restrictions set to take effect over the next two years, and France already has boosted the tax on tobacco.
Even Greece, where smoking is more popular than elsewhere in Europe, is poised to pass new laws to protect athletes at the summer Olympics in Athens.
Under European Union laws, cigarette packages carry stark black and white “smoking kills” labels, and tobacco advertising will be banned on radio, television, and in print by July, 2005.
In short, Europe is recognizing that tobacco use by a minority places a heavy burden on the nonsmoking majority in the form of higher health-care costs for all and the documented carcinogenic hazards of secondhand smoke.
As in Toledo, where petitions demanding a referendum on the city ordinance are being checked this week, the new laws are not always universally popular, although the vocal minority is increasingly that - a minority. As a Dublin bartender told the New York Times, “Cigarettes and alcohol are synonymous, at least in Irish culture.”
Elsewhere, health officials see the anti-tobacco movement gaining momentum. In France, for example, a government-run insurance company is suing tobacco companies for $37.8 million spent to treat smoking-related illness.
The European experience indicates that many people on the Continent and in Great Britain have the same aversion as most Americans to inhaling smoke in public places, including where they dine and drink.
Old habits, particularly bad habits, die hard. But those who oppose smoking bans are on the wrong side of history - and, as it turns out, geography, too.